The MALAMA research study aims to test a culturally grounded family-based backyard aquaponics intervention with Native Hawaiian families living in Waimānalo.

The study innovatively merges the modern technology of aquaponics with traditional Native Hawaiian practices to create a “mini ahupuaʻa” system in families’ backyards to provide constant access to fresh fruits, vegetables, and fish.



An independent and healthy community rooted in sustainable cultural practices. 


To improve Native Hawaiian spiritual, physical, and emotional health through aquaponics and lāʻau lapaʻau. To promote research with a community-based approach and Native Hawaiian lens.  To foster healthy individuals by providing resources to building a healthy family. 

Background/History of Aquaponics in Waimānalo

 “The Beginning of Backyard Aquaponics Research in Waimānalo. Since 2010, Ilima Ho-Lastimosa has assisted over 50 Native Hawaiian families with building backyard aquaponics systems to increase their access to fresh fruits, vegetables, and fish. Since then, Dr. Jane Chung-Do and her students, including Dr. Phoebe Hwang, have conducted public health studies, which found that aquaponics resonates with participants because it resembles the ahupua‘a, a system that ancient Native Hawaiians developed to sustainably grow plants and fish, which ran from the mountain to the sea. Two follow-up studies revealed that the family aquaponics systems increased the family membersʻ access to and intake of fresh fruits and vegetables by 78% and fish by 52%. It also gave the participants more confidence to prepare a healthy meal and be more active in homeland conservation and protection efforts because they engaged with aquaponics.

Further, the positive impacts of aquaponics systems occurred through multiple generations within a family.  Although these sample sizes are small, the findings suggest that backyard aquaponics is culturally relevant and may affect obesity risks by actively promote n Native Hawaiian healthy eating in indigenous reduced communities. In 2014, Ilima Ho-Lastimosa became the Community Coordinator for the Waimanalo Learning Center of the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources with Dr. Ted Radovich. Her role has been to promote community engagement in agriculture and food production through a Native Hawaiian lens.  Through her role, they have built a community aquaponics system and implemented multiple workshops, increasing the community's capacity and interest in aquaponics.  

In 2018, Jane, Ilima, Ted, and Phoebe received a pilot National Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparities grant from Ola HAWAII through the John A. Burns School of Medicine to systematically test backyard aquaponics as a public health intervention. Thus, the MALAMA Research Study was born. Ten Native Hawaiian families from Waimānalo were recruited as Hui 1 and participated in a series of workshops. These workshops taught them to build and maintain their own backyard aquaponics system and to cook and make lāʻau from the plants and fish they grow. Preliminary results suggest that their participation in MALAMA increased their intake of fresh fruits, vegetables, and fish, enhanced family and community connectedness, and lowered their risks of cardiovascular diseases. At the end of 2018, the team received additional funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Interdisciplinary Research Leaders Fellowship to continue building on their pilot findings and enhance their professional development in research, community engagement, policy, and leadership. This funding has allowed the recruitment of 20 more Native Hawaiian families from Waimānalo recruited into Hui 2 and Hui 3. This will enable the MALAMA crew to continue measuring the impacts and benefits of MALAMA to expand its pae ʻāina and beyond.”